Morocco sentences 23 to prison over West Sahara killings
Rabat, Morocco - A Moroccan court on Wednesday sentenced 23 Sahrawis to prison terms ranging from two years to life over the killing of 11 members of the Moroccan security forces in contested Western Sahara.
The verdict in the case, which has been closely followed by human rights campaigners, was delivered at dawn by the Court of Appeals in Sale near Rabat, the official news agency MAP reported.
Morocco and the Algeriabacked Polisario Front independence movement have accused each other of provoking deadly clashes between police and Sahrawi protesters at a camp for displaced people in Gdeim Izik in November 2010.
In 2013 a military court sentenced the defendants to jail terms ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment.
International rights groups condemned that trial as ‘unfair’ and in July the Court of Cassation ordered a civilian court to examine the case.
The court issued its verdict after 12 hours of deliberations, issuing sentences against 19 defendants ranging from 20 years to life. Four others were given lighter sentences but were not detained as they have already served their time. The defence has ten days to appeal.
The killings took place on November 8, 2010 as Moroccan forces moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp where thousands of Sahrawis were living.
Eleven security personnel and two Sahrawi civilians were killed in the clashes that followed, which spread to the nearby city of Laayoune where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.
Disarmed, some victims had their throats cut or their dead bodies desecrated, according to videos shot by the security forces.
Morocco says Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony mostly controlled by Rabat, is an integral part of the kingdom.
The Polisario Front demands a referendum on self-determination for the territory.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week issued a joint plea for the Moroccan authorities to ensure the verdict in the trial was not based on confessions or statements ‘obtained under torture or other illtreatment during police interrogations’.
The Moroccan authorities have sought to underline what they called the ‘ transparency’ and ‘fairness’ of the civil trial, which was open to the press and international observers.
In May the defendants and their lawyers announced they would no longer attend what they said was a ‘mock trial’.